One of the last articles that I acquired for Canticle did not make the “final cut”… but I felt the subject matter was too important not to give it a wider audience. And so, I’d like to share this woman’s story with you here.
“Dawn Wilde” (a pseudonym) experienced her own painful journey from grief to hope after having lost her fourth child six months into her pregnancy in September 2007. She received an outpouring of support from Catholic, Protestant, and even Jewish friends … but her pain was compounded by her own family.
Dawn writes, “My sister-in-law was due just two weeks prior to what would have been my due date and I had to grieve in her shadow. Neither my sister-in-law nor my mother-in-law ever expressed sympathy for our loss beyond our son’s funeral, and my sister-in-law did not even attend the funeral.
“It was a painful experience, but one that ultimately brought me closer to Jesus and Mary. With little support from family, I had to rely upon my faith for grace, strength, and consolation. I have forgiven my husband’s family because I understand now that, without Our Lord in your life, it is very difficult to offer compassion to others who are suffering. The whole experience has prompted me to pray for my husband’s family even more.”
If you are struggling to cope with the loss of your baby, please know that you are not alone … and that your baby is safe in the arms of the angels, until you meet again. If you have not yet lost your baby, but are struggling to come to terms with a bad prognosis regarding your child and/or pregancy, click here.
When my sister-in-law walked through the door, the sight of her was a visceral shock. Meg wore a snug-fitting shirt with an equally snug sweater, open just enough to frame her pregnant belly in a V. She hugged me, and I became painfully conscious of the difference between us.
“Doesn’t she look great?” her mother asked, waving a hand toward Meg’s stomach. I nod in perfunctory agreement. I tried to avoid looking at Meg, but the conversation repeatedly drifted back to my own baby. I felt myself going numb.
My sweet children raced over to their aunt, marveling at her pregnancy. They led her to the couch and surrounded her like magpies, clearly in awe of her condition. Not even the numbness could protect me as they chattered lightly about my unborn niece. I silently begged God to keep them from saying something innocuous about their own dead brother, and mercifully, they don’t.
Meg asked to use my computer — to read her e-mail, I thought. Actually, she wanted to check her weekly pregnancy report, to see how big her baby was this week, to see what new parts were marvelously alive and functioning. Her mother told her to send me a copy, but Meg brushed her off, pointing out the obvious: “She’s been pregnant before, Mom. She probably knows all this by heart.”
Yes, that’s it exactly, I thought.
We sat before the fireplace, across from one another on matching couches. My mother-in-law sat by Meg, practically glowing with pleasure as her daughter described how the baby was the size of a large cantaloupe that week. Suddenly she smiled. “She’s kicking,” Meg said.
Her mother rushed to feel the flutter, but the baby refused to cooperate. She interminably rubbed her hands across Meg’s belly until she was rewarded with a kick. I was terrified that they might ask me if I wanted to feel it, too.
Plastering a smile on my face, I checked out mentally. Why were they unable to see me? With each new revelation, my heart constricted until it froze; better to feel nothing than to contemplate the differences between our bodies. Easier to pretend the difference didn’t matter than to imagine my pain doesn’t matter to them.
Just then my husband reached up to retrieve our son’s urn from the mantle. We were in the process of finalizing the arrangements for our son’s internment. “You never got to see this, Meg, since you couldn’t come to the funeral,” he says, handing it to her.
My heart began to beat frantically. I felt lightheaded and short of breath as he handed her what was left of my unborn child.
Meg’s face was a mask of displeasure, and she turned her head away. “Oh, I can’t…I can’t see that…take it away,” she said, waving him away. “It took me a whole hour to get out of the mall that day when you called and told me what happened.”
In a second, I was angrier than I had ever been. “Yes, it was pretty awful for me, too,” I blurt out. I can’t help myself. Both Meg and her mother look slapped, as if suddenly aware I was in the room.
Meg reluctantly takes the urn, glancing at its small ceramic statue of a boy briefly before handing it back to her brother. She crosses her arms, as if to ward off further contact. A cold rage filled me, and I fought the urge to grab the urn and flee upstairs to the safety of our bedroom.
As if forced by the demands of proper decorum to inquire, Meg asked: “So, how has it been for you?”
I wanted to say something sophisticated and proper, maybe even diplomatic. I wanted to look strong. Instead I heard myself saying: “It’s been pretty terrible.”
“Oh, no, I mean, how have you been physically?” Meg says. “Have you healed up?”Just in case you thought I was asking about how this has really affected you. I just want the superficial details.
The question stunned me, and everyone fell silent. My husband talked about choosing the burial place and his mother shared her golf score. The conversation retreated back to mundane subjects, and less than five minutes later, it was over. My son’s short life was shortened even more.
When we finally got to bed, I was furious with my husband. “How could you bring that up with them?” I asked hotly.
“I never expected them to act like that!” he retorted. But I knew better. We both did. More than anyone, he knew what the night has cost me.
Yet I can’t blame him. Not really. Even I know that my anger is displaced. He was a fool for wanting their acknowledgement, but it’s a foolish desire that’s filled my heart, too. It’s not his fault they don’t know Jesus and can’t recognize the value of our child’s irreplaceable life.
The rage chilled me until everyone else was asleep. Then the hot, stinging tears came so fast they dripped straight to the pillow with no time to course a path down my face. Is it possible to hurt this much and not die from it?
As a child, I was trained in the art of crying silently around others, and it served me well now. I wept bitterly for my dead son. Two months, two short months and already he is forgotten.
Then I realized the truth: to be forgotten, one must first be known.
In the darkness, all things came to bear on me—the traumatic delivery, the regret that I didn’t hold him longer, the horror of my suffering being invisible to others. I think about Jesus, about the inevitable strangers who stood along the streets of Jerusalem and watched dispassionately as he carried his cross to Golgotha. Their faces blend in with the ones sleeping quietly in other rooms of my house, faces unmoved by plain suffering, that see nothing reflected in the pain of others except their own discomfort.
But God sent others, too. Mary Magdalene. The apostle John. The women of Jerusalem. Simon. Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Mary. As a motherless Catholic, I’ve always found it easy to embrace her. To a degree. After all, how much can I really have in common with a perfect, lifelong virgin with only one child?
The Father took our sons. But maybe she knew Easter was coming, I think. I don’t. Now, though, that shared agony is enough. I can practically feel her soft hand caressing my wet face, telling me gently without words that Good Friday will not last forever. And that my loneliness does not reflect the full truth.
Suddenly I remember the weekly phone calls from a woman in our parish, asking how I’m doing. I remember my Baptist friend caring for my children so I can sit with a book and cup of coffee at a local cafe. I see a frail old Jewish man struggling up from his knees during his first Catholic Mass, the one he offered as a memorial to our son. I see Mary visiting Elizabeth.
Years ago, a priest told me that joy is possible in the midst of great suffering. At the time I was sure he was a loon. But now I understand. In the midst of the fury, my heart soars with gratitude. As if in response, my husband reaches for my hand, gripping it firmly in the darkness. The storm passes. But not before I thank God for sending the mother of my Lord to me, not just in sorrow but through the kindness of others. ™
Dawn Wilde converted to Catholicism from atheism seven years ago. She lives with her husband and three living children in southwestern Virginia.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of Aspen Mortuary